Sunday, May 13, 2012

Report: Only 10% of Americans are climate change denialists

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Global warming

Well, this is interesting. With all the media hysterics and false equivocation about global warming (particularly in the United States), it makes it seem like denialists are something of a majority, or else that the American people in general is evenly split on the issue of whether man-caused climate change is occurring or not. Thankfully, a new report gives me one less reason to mistrust the hoi polloi, as it turns out that contrary to the media spin, those with their heads stuck in the sand are actually a minority in the U.S., and by a wide margin:

Published last month by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, the report (pdf) shows that Americans are far less polarized about global warming than is commonly believed. Among other things, the report also found strong support for government action to address global warming, including support for a revenue neutral carbon tax, regardless of political party preference.

Researchers found that a strong majority of Americans (72%) believe global warming should be a political priority and they want their elected officials to do something about it. An even stronger majority (92%) think that developing clean energy should be a political priority. The survey also showed a majority of Americans think that protecting the environment actually improves economic growth and creates jobs.

So why do Americans have a skewed vision of the public's opinion on global warming? According to Anthony Leiserowitz of the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies at Yale University, one of the report's principal investigators, a media bias for controversy combined with an extremely vocal minority of "Dismissers" are the driving forces behind the perceived polarization.

Here’s how the demographics break down:

Pie chart: “Public Opinion of Global Warming in America” (Alarmed = 12%, Concerned = 27%, Cautious = 25%, Disengaged = 10%, Doubtful = 15%, Dismissive = 10%)

So, all in all, 64% of Americans believe that global warming is real, 25% either possess some lingering doubts or else don’t care either way, and only a 10% fringe thinks that wind farms are a secret plot by Al Gore and the Super Secret Green Energy Cabal to establish a New World Order by injecting mind-control nanites in the global water supply. (If not, it’s still more reasonable than their usual theory that 90% of the world’s scientists are incompetent hoaxers.)

It’s obvious that the media’s love of pretending that there are always two equally valid sides to any given debate is a large driving factor behind the spread of climate change denialism such as it is. The same thing goes with the rise of antivaccination lunacy (after all, third-rate celebrities and assorted obscure cranks just don’t have that much influence on their own), and virtually any other form of science rejection. As long as “debates” consisting of blowhards yelling at each other over matters they know nothing about continue to attract viewers, then this is the rhetoric that will continue to prevail on news channels everywhere. (Fox News may be the worst in this domain, but they’re certainly not alone.)

As always, the cure to virulent ignorance is proper education and science advocacy, particularly online as more and more of the general population goes cyberspatial.

(via @BadAstronomer)